Oral health information for parents and carers of young children
Are my baby's teeth really that important?
- Many people think baby teeth don't matter because they'll eventually fall out. The truth is baby teeth do matter. They are
very important because they help a child to bite, chew, speak and smile
- Good, healthy baby teeth hold the space for good healthy adult teeth growing under the gums
- Having good oral health care from a very young age can help protect your child's teeth for decades
When should I start cleaning my baby's teeth?
- You can start brushing your baby's teeth as soon as they start to come through
- Brush at least twice a day: just before bed and at another time that fits in with your routine
- Use a tiny smear of fluoridated toothpaste containing 1,350 – 1,500 ppm (parts per million fluoride for babies and toddlers up to 3 years old, and a pea-sized amount for children aged 3 to 6 years. The amount of fluoride is stated as 'parts per million' or 'ppm' and can be found on the side of the tube or on the packaging
- Gradually start brushing your child's teeth more thoroughly, covering all the surfaces of the teeth
- You can choose a toothbrush with a small head and medium-textured bristle. You can use a manual or electric toothbrush
- Encourage your child to spit and not rinse after brushing so that the effects of fluoride toothpaste are not diluted
- Not all children like having their teeth brushed, so you may have to keep trying and help or supervise him or her until they are at least seven years old
- An easy way to brush your child's teeth is to sit him/her on your knee, with their head resting against your chest. With older children, stand behind them and tilt their head backwards
|Smear for 0-3 year olds||Pea-sized blob for 3–6 year olds |
Read more about looking after your baby's teeth
Download the free Brush DJ app on tooth brushing
How can fluoride help to keep my child's teeth healthy?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water in varying amounts, depending on where in the UK you live. It can help prevent tooth decay, which is why it is added to many brands of toothpaste and, in some other parts of the country, to the water supply.
Watch a video on how to brush your child's teeth
What dietary habits can support my child to have healthy teeth and smile?
Eating healthily can help your child to have healthy teeth and gums and not feel embarrassed to smile or laugh. Here are some tips that can help your baby and child to eat healthily:
- Breast milk is the only food or drink your baby needs for around the first six months of their life. Formula milk is the only suitable alternative to breast milk
- Breastfeeding up to 12 months is associated with lower risk of tooth decay. Try to breast-feed at routine intervals as even breast milk in constant contact with a baby's teeth can cause decay
- From six months old you can offer your baby drinks in a free-flow cup
- You can give your baby breast or formula milk or cooled, boiled water only in bottles
- When your baby starts eating solid foods, encourage him/her to eat savoury food and have drinks with no sugar
- Check if there is sugar in pre-prepared baby foods (including the savoury ones), rusks and baby drinks
- Giving your child regular meals rather than grazing, is best for their teeth The more times their teeth have food or sugary drinks on them the more decay is possible
- Try to reduce the amount and frequency of giving your child foods and drinks that contain sugar and only give sweet foods including dried fruit at mealtimes - ask family and friends to do the same
- You can offer healthy snack options such as fresh fruit, vegetables, plain yoghurts, cheese and bread
- Encourage your child to have milk and water between meals as they are the most tooth-friendly drinks as even fruit juice is acidic and high in sugars
- Keep all fruit juices and squashes to meal times only
- Always avoid giving your child squashes sweetened with sugar, fizzy drinks, soft drinks and juice drinks
- It is helpful to check the label on other kinds of sugar harmful to teeth such as glucose, maltose and sucrose
- Remember that low sugar' or 'no added sugar' labels do not mean the food or drink is sugar-free
- Choose sugar-free medicines when you can
Read more about food labels
Read more about food facts
When can I take my child to the dentist for the first check-up?
- Dental visits are free for children
- You can take your baby to the dentist as soon as the first teeth appear
- Visiting regularly will get your baby/child used to check-ups and your dentist can give you information and advice on how to look after their teeth
- Keeping baby teeth healthy fill the important role of helping children talk and grow as cavities in baby teeth can lead to cavities in permanent teeth
How do I find a dentist for my child?
What should I do if my child knocks out a tooth?
- When a tooth falls out, rinse the mouth out with warm water and then apply a cold compress. If the tooth is a primary tooth that has naturally fallen out, no further action is necessary
- If the primary tooth has been knocked out due to an accident or trauma, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. A space maintainer may be needed to help the permanent teeth grow in properly
If it is an adult (permanent) tooth:
- Hold it by the white bit that sticks out of the gum (the crown) – do not touch the root
- Lick it clean if it is dirty, or quickly rinse it in cold running water for no more than 10 seconds
- Try to put it back into the hole in the gum. If it does not go in easily put it in milk
- Put it in saliva – by spitting into a container (if it is your tooth) or having your child spit into a container (if it is theirs)
- Hold it in your cheek until you see the dentist – but do not have younger children do this in case they swallow it
- If it goes back in, bite down gently on a clean cloth to hold the tooth in place
What should I do if my child has a toothache?
Arrange an appointment with a dentist if your child has toothache:
- That lasts more than 2 days
- That doesn't go away even after taking painkillers
- With a high temperature, pain when biting, red gums, or a bad taste in the mouth
- And their cheek and/or jaw is swollen.
Don't go to your GP as they won't be able to give you dental treatment.
Read more about toothache
Who can get free dental treatment?
- Certain groups don't have to pay NHS dental treatment charges
- You should always check with your dentist whether your treatment is private or NHS
- If you are entitled to free NHS treatment and the treatment you receive is a mixture of NHS and private, you will still have to pay for the private treatment
You are entitled to free NHS dental treatment if:
- When your treatment starts, you are under 18; under 19 years old and in full time education
- At the time you are accepted for your course of treatment, you are pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months
- You are receiving certain benefits and income support
Who can get free NHS dental treatment?
Oral health promotion for health professionals
Health Visitors have an important role in providing oral health promotion advice and support as part of the healthy child programme. This includes:
- Universal interventions within the first year, providing advice on breastfeeding, healthy weaning, diet, teething and toothbrushing
- Identifying families and providing additional oral health promotion support, for example the siblings of children who have attended hospital for dental extractions due to tooth decay
- Signposting and encouraging dental attendance when the first tooth erupts at about six months of age, to enable the dental teams to give preventive messages
- School nurses have a role in promoting oral health, by giving information to children, young people and families
- School nurses can maximise the benefits of good oral health at health screening sessions and during health education sessions in primary schools
- Pharmacists and pharmacies provide and can recommend on a range of oral health products such as fluoride toothpastes, toothbrushes, interdental brushes and mouthwashes
- Pharmacists can be trained to recommend suitable products available to manage specific oral health conditions such as toothache, enamel erosion, halitosis, gingivitis and staining
- Pharmacists can help at risk groups such as people with diabetes that are at increased risk of and are more likely to develop gum disease by promoting the use of sugar-free medicines
- Pharmacists can link customers who smoke and request teeth whitening products to smoking cessation services
- Pharmacists can encourage the use of sugar-free medicines where possible if a liquid medication is required
- General dental practitioners have an ethical responsibility to provide reasonable access to advice and emergency treatment for their patients, including those who are seen under a private contract
- GPs should not attempt to manage a condition requiring dental skills unless they have the appropriate training and expertise
- Before refusing to treat a patient asking for emergency dental treatment, a GP must ascertain that the condition requires only dental treatment. Everyone in the practice team must do their best to ensure the patient does not need the attention of a GP when signposting
- Patients presenting with signs of spreading infection or systemic involvement of a dental infection should be referred immediately to secondary care for appropriate surgical management
- Many general health conditions (e.g. diabetes, stress, organ transplantation, stroke, chemotherapy) and/or drugs can cause oral health problems. GPs can encourage these patients to see a dentist for examination and management/treatment as required
- GPs should advise patients on certain medication such as anticoagulants or anti platelets drugs to inform their dental practitioners of treatment at each dental appointment
Resources to support health professionals